June 23: Composers – Sanford, Songs of Isaiah, 2017

Jon CurtisSeason of the Day, SOTD - June

Sanford’s introduction to “Songs of Isaiah.”

This three movement concert work, from 2016, was commissioned by Bay Choral Guild, the Palo Alto-based choir that I have been directing for 20 years. My original idea was to write for choir and strings, but when the decision was made to pair this with another contemporary work that used strings and harp it was clear that I should include harp in my piece as well.

The choice of text makes for a somewhat odd concert work. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP) includes 21 canticles, Biblical excerpts that are to be sung or spoken during Morning and Evening Prayer services. Canticles 9, 10, and 11, three passages from the book of Isaiah, known as the First, Second and Third Song of Isaiah, are presented on facing pages in the BCP. One day, as I was searching for anthem texts, I saw these three passages as making a good set for a multi-movement work.

The outer movements are joyful songs of praise while the middle movement is more contemplative. In this case I intentionally tried to write music that was approachable for many church choirs to use in a concert setting. Composing this work was so much fun! It is such a joy to end a concert with the propulsive rhythms inspired by Henry Mancini’s theme to the 1960’s TV show, Peter Gunn.

Songs of Isaiah
From the Book of Isaiah

Movement I – Canticle 9 The First Song of Isaiah Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in God and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and God will be my Savior. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation. And on that day you shall say, Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; Make God’s deeds known among the peoples; see that they remember that God’s Name is exalted. Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world. Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Movement II – Canticle 10 The Second Song of Isaiah Isaiah 55:6-11
Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; call upon him when he draws near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the evil ones their thoughts; And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion, and to our God, for he will richly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, Bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; But it will accomplish that which I have purposed, and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Movement III – Canticle 11 The Third Song of Isaiah Isaiah 60:1-3, 11a, 14c, 18-19
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. For behold, darkness covers the land; deep gloom enshrouds the peoples. But over you the Lord will rise, and his glory will appear upon you. Nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning. Your gates will always be open; by day or night they will never be shut. They will call you, The City of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Violence will no more be heard in your land, ruin or destruction within your borders. You will call your walls, Salvation, and all your portals, Praise. The sun will no more be your light by day; by night you will not need the brightness of the moon. The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
While Consort has had many associate directors, this is the first time we have had someone besides Allan direct a piece during a performance.  Here we see Sanford directing his own “Songs of Isaiah.”